If someone had told me five years ago when my first book was published that I’d be mentioned in a NYT article, I may have had trouble believing it. I’m very, very blessed. Let me get that out of the way. It’s something I try to remember every day, no matter how craptastic the day is.
The NYT article entitled With Kindle, The Bestsellers Don’t Need to Sell – is on the front page of this morning’s New York Times and it’s about how free can be a great promotional tool. I think the title is a bit misleading – sure if you do a free giveaway you can rank at the top of the bestseller’s list in the Kindle store, but the point of a free giveaway is to expose a large group of readers to an author’s voice to hopefully bring a portion of them back as readers who will then pick up your other titles which aren’t free.
This happened to me, but the giveaway in October wasn’t the first time. I’ve always given my books away for free in contests. Before Triad came out I have believed that giving away my books is the most effective form of promotion. Other authors disagree, but as this is my blog, LOL, I’m saying it’s effective and that’s backed by five years of experience.
I not only give away my own titles, but I love to give away other people’s books too to hopefully hook readers on something I really loved. For me, the cost is not about – “I spent X and on this title I need to make Y in royalties” because promotion should never be about a single title. It should be about an author’s voice. When you’re starting out, you need to find a way to stand out, to give readers a reason to choose your title over the twelve or twenty also out that day. Banner ads can’t compete with word of mouth, IMO. Real people talking to their friends about something they loved. Of course you take a chance that people who read the book you gave them will hate it, LOL, but that’s a chance you always take as a writer. You do the best job you can and you set the book free out there. Some people will love it, some will hate it. You just hope the balance is weighted in the love it camp.
A free book is the absolute best way to show your work. How can it not be? How can a banner ad compare to that? Sure it gets your name out there if people visit whatever site you’ve placed the ad on and name repetition is important too (I do blog ads so I do obviously believe in the efficacy of ads as well). Digital books are even easier to give as prizes – you can send them immediately, there’s no trip to the post office and the cost to the author is lower just due to those facts alone.
Let me quickly distinguish this form of free from piracy – piracy is NOT free. Piracy is people other than the owner of the material offering up a download to everyone and their brother online to steal. Thousands of downloads at a time. This is not helpful. This is not “sharing” because you can’t share what you don’t own. And pirates don’t own those sorts of use rights. Piracy sucks. It hurts authors and my opinion of it is quite clear. Don’t do it and call yourself a fan or a booklover. You can steal an MP3 player from Best Buy and call yourself a fan, but you’re still a thief.
Back to the topic at hand – free as a tool. Because my numbers are quoted in the article and because I don’t normally discuss them in such detail, let’s break out what success means in this context:
Giving Chase is a title that released from a recent start up at the time, Samhain publishing, in 2006. The other three books in the series followed with the last releasing digitally in 2007 and appearing in a staggered fashion in print roughly 10 months after digital release. The books were not erotic romance, but highly sensual, small town romances, a total departure from what I had written before.
Samhain did a Kindle giveaway for Giving Chase once before and I got a nice bump but at the time, it was print that really pushed me into a whole new readership. At that point, Kindle wasn’t as widespread as it is now, not all my books were available at the kindle store and so that success was moderate, but still nice.
Some years later, with Kindle being far more successful, I began seeing increases in my numbers as my books began to list there. It was at this time that they asked me if they could use Giving Chase as a free giveaway for the whole month of October. I agreed.
Why did I agree? The book still sells well for a book that is now 4 years old, but it’s an old title. What did I have to lose really, from all that exposure? If it fizzled, I wouldn’t be out a whole lot and sometimes it’s good to take a chance.
Samhain promoted it. Kindle promoted it and I promoted it. The huge number of Kindle fans who’ve started blogs and lists of the free offerings at the Kindle store listed the books. The level of chatter about the free offerings was far greater than the last time we did a giveaway. This, IMO, was hugely important.
But in publishing, time moves at a different pace. Everything is a lot slower. I saw the ranks so I figured I was doing well, but pretty much forgot about it in the chaos of the holidays, having my family visiting and the kids being home. (I did just stop looking at the Amazon pages for the books because free also means people who don’t really read romance will grab the book and hate it. Hate is fine, but really, my skin is only so thick so it’s best for me not to read those reviews, LOL.)
So I got a ping from Crissy Brashear, the publisher of Samhain some weeks back wherein she told me what those numbers were and I nearly passed out. When she broke down how the other three books in the series did – I realized we’d achieved a 10% return on those who got the free download who then went and grabbed the other books.
10% is a big number. A really big number when you consider the age of the titles. My other kindle available books got a nice bump too. When I look at the numbers what I see are the small press books doing the best. Why that is I can’t say for sure, but I think several things are in play:
Am I a millionaire? No. I still get excited when I find a five dollar bill in a pocket of old jeans. Do I believe that in this case, free books have bumped up my name recognition and overall sales? Yes. Yes and it happened with something that’s an expression of who I am as an author. That’s priceless in an age where you can go into any bookstore and see shelf after shelf of books. I’m not a NYT bestseller (yet), I don’t get book tours or even free ads from my publishers. I’m scrambling and fighting to reach midlist and beyond.
Promotion is a fact of life for authors. Most of us find it time consuming and exhausting. Some authors don’t do any at all, but I can’t afford not to. What I have to do is think about promotion in a comprehensive fashion because like most authors, I have a thousand other responsibilities in my life and I still have to write the books I need to promote. Spamming a thousand people at facebook every day with comments about my book being the awesomest on the planet will not help, in fact it turns people off. Spamming twitter won’t help either.
To those who repeat the “just write the best book you can and they’ll come” mantra – I have to disagree. Unless you’re already established, what’s going to get that reader to grab your book over the one a shelf over? Each month you’re competing with hundreds of other titles similar to yours in some fashion. Those of us who aren’t at the Nora Roberts level (which is most of us because hello, it’s pretty rare to achieve that – and you know she works her butt off too to keep that) have to be smart about raising our titles above the rest, about standing out in a non-trainwreck way (and you all know who you are – all publicity is NOT good publicity in this case).
At the end of the day, something like giving away a book or a track from a new album IS important. Free won’t make you a success if your book or your song sucks, or if you can’t keep up pace and continue to put out good work. But it’s underrated. It’s totally simple, which is part of the beauty, isn’t it?